Artwork, short stories, photos, movie reviews, recipes, teacher features and articles on everything from mental health to the use of cell phones in class – all are in the latest issues of the River Bluff Courier.
The newspaper is created by students, for students – just make sure your assignment is in by deadline.
The River Bluff Courier debuted in fall, and is produced through computer art teacher Cassie Bonde’s yearbook and newspaper design class. Students learn skills in writing, editing, interviewing, photography and basic graphic design and layout from Bonde, a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who worked as a sports reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal and as a news producer at WKOW 27 before joining the district in 2015.
“I made the leap to teaching because teaching is my true passion, but there’s still a little bit of that journalistic itch,” she told the Hub last week.
The class is now in its second year, after only a half-dozen students signed up for it when initially offered three years ago. The following year, more than two dozen signed up, and it’s been off and running since, she said.
“I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s great,’” Bonde said. “Yearbook used to be an afterschool club that would meet once or twice a month, but it was hard to consistently get the same kids there.”
Now the class includes a newspaper, which can give students some experience if they choose to join the staff of the acclaimed Norse Star, the Stoughton High School student newspaper.
“I thought it would be a really good idea,” she said. “Everybody knows what a success that is; they do a fantastic job and win awards every year. I figured why not try to get kids more of a start into that realm.
“They’re working hard and doing great,” Bonde added.
For the class, students learn about a variety of functions, roles and skills needed at a modern newspaper, with some taking on page design, art, photography and a variety of writing roles.
Bonde said the class is structured so that every student has something to cover.
The paper includes a five-person editorial board comprising students who are the leaders in the room, she said. It’s something she added last year to help give students more ownership of the process after spending about 10 hours herself getting the first issue done last year.
“(They’re) the kids I know will get it done and I can trust to write and edit good stories,” she said. “I had to take that step back and say, ‘These are 13 and 14 year olds; we don’t need to be putting out Pulitzer Prize-winning stuff.”
The students do need to meet deadlines, however. And Bonde is proud of the fact that she is a stickler for that all-important aspect of the business.
“This is a very writing intensive class, and I want them to understand if you don’t get it done, nobody’s going to pick up your slack, nobodys going to cover for you,” she said. “It’s your job, and if we’re short a page in the issue, that’s on you. There’s a workload, and getting them to understand it’s not a ‘slacker’ class – they have to come in ready to rock.”
Students usually spend about a month on each issue, with Bonde giving a week’s notice to come up with story ideas every month. They’re now working on their fifth issue, and she said she enjoys the positive feedback from staff and parents, and the fact that the students now have something they’ve produced themselves.
It’s giving kids that hands on opportunity to do something that could potentially be a career down the road,” Bonde said.
RBMS principal Trish Gates said given Bonde’s experience in the field of journalism and communication, school officials are thrilled to offer the course.
“The goal of our elective program at River Bluff is to provide options for students to try out areas of interest and explore their talents and abilities,” she wrote the Hub in an email. “I am always impressed with each edition, and the dedication and effort it takes our students to produce a great newspaper.”
Gates said as principal, she particularly enjoys it when students ask to interview her for a story.
“You can tell the students are so proud of their work, and the ability that they learn from the interview process is so important to future opportunities post-high school,” she said.